Jul 09, 2023
Gaia Series 2: New Challenge Of Conveyor Belt Sushi
Japan Hour Two sushi restaurant chains - Gatten Sushi and Kura Sushi - are featured this week, with a focus on how they use innovative strategies such as breeding their own fish and the latest
Two sushi restaurant chains - Gatten Sushi and Kura Sushi - are featured this week, with a focus on how they use innovative strategies such as breeding their own fish and the latest technologies.
This week, we check out two sushi chains in Japan - Gatten Sushi and Kura Sushi. The conveyor belt sushi market has grown in the past 10 years. It is becoming more difficult to source fish from overseas so we will look at how these two companies try to overcome this challenge.
We first go to Nerima City in Tokyo to visit Gatten Sushi. It has about 90 branches, mainly in the Kanto Region. It also has stores in countries like Korea and China. It is known for having many options on the menu, such as sailfin poacher and barfin flounder, both of which are not found in every sushi restaurant. The manager of the Nerima City branch is Harashima Masanari. At Gatten Sushi, managers can purchase fish of their choice. Customers can order from the seasonal menu and the menu is different at each branch. For example, he decides to order some Spanish mackerel for the next day as it is in season now. The next day, the head of purchasing for Gatten Sushi, Mochizuki Michiharu, goes to the Odawara Fishery Harbour in Kanagawa at 5am. He buys a mackerel weighing more than 4kg.
We next head to the Gatten Sushi branch in Kazo City, Saitama Prefecture. Its branch manager, Yutaka Maruka, is a sushi chef whose expertise lies in how he cuts individual pieces of fish. He was recommended to be promoted to the position by area manager, Tatsuo Yanagisawa. We accompany Mr Maruka to see his senior colleague at the Kumagaya Ishihara branch in Kumagaya City. It is Gatten Sushi's flagship restaurant and its branch manager, Junichi Matsumoto, is one of Gatten Sushi's top managers. Mr Maruka gets some tips from him on how to be a good manager.
We next shift our focus to Kura Sushi, the second-biggest sushi chain in the industry. We visit its flagship store in Asakusa, Tokyo, called the Asakusa Rox Branch. We meet Kura Sushi’s president, Kunihiko Tanaka, who tells us about an unusual item on its menu - the AI skipjack tuna. It was farmed domestically. Hiburi Island in Ehime lies between the islands of Shikoku and Kyushu. It is known for the farming of Pacific bluefin tuna and sea bream. We meet Masahiko Shimizu, the Fishery Project Department Manager, who is in charge of farming activities at Kura Sushi. He has collaborated with Junya Takanabe, a local fisherman from Takanabe Fisheries, to farm skipjack tuna and sell it in Kura Sushi restaurants around Japan. They have introduced a modern system to feed the fish via artificial intelligence. It is used to determine the health of the fish and the amount of feed.
We visit the Kura Sushi Higashi Kaizuka branch in Kaizuka City, Osaka Prefecture on the first day when it starts selling the AI skipjack tuna. Mr Shimizu is around to get feedback from the customers.
Mr Shimizu’s other big project takes place at Ena Fishing Port, Wakayama. Japan's first organic young yellowtail took Kura Sushi a year to breed here. It has been dubbed organic because it has been recognised as meeting international standards on feed and living environment. Kura Sushi's young yellowtail is the first in the country to meet the necessary requirements to be labelled as organic.
At Kura Sushi’s Asakusa branch, domestically bred fish is the focus of its business. Mr Shimizu comes up with the idea of selling canned organic young yellowtail, to ensure that the parts of the fish that are not used for sushi are not wasted. We visit an organic canned food factory in Sapporo City, Hokkaido with him. The factory and Kura Sushi’s collaboration has led to products such as radish and young yellowtail in bonito-flavoured soy sauce, simmered radish and yellowtail, yellowtail in oil and yellowtail in tomato sauce.
Many modern technologies are used to transform the conveyor sushi restaurant industry. We pay a visit to Suzumo Corporation in Nerima City, Tokyo. We see a machine that makes sushi rice balls. It can produce 80 pieces of sushi in a minute. There is also a sushi-making robot that is used in big chains. It has a 70 per cent share of the Japanese domestic market.
1) Gatten Sushi has interesting options such as sailfin poacher and barfin flounder 2) Kura Sushi is known for its domestically bred fish such as organic young yellowtail